The kitchen is my favorite place to incorporate practical life and spend one-on-one time with my kids. There’s something so magical to letting your little one experiment with real food and utensils, and watch batter become cookies or veggies become soup. It can be exhausting at times to slow down in these ways, but the way it fills their cups is hard to beat. Plus, cooking is just a huge passion of mine that I want to pass down to them.
This reward keeps me motivated to ensure this is a “yes” space where appropriate, but it’s the hardest “yes” space to manage compared to the other parts of our home.
Any freedom given in the kitchen generally needs supervision and guidance – at least with my two – and so if I cannot commit to the guidance required with a new freedom here, then it is worth waiting and reevaluating. There are many beautiful and more elaborate child-sized working kitchen ideas for Montessori families, ranging from dish washing stations to self-serve snack shelves, but I’ve had better luck with more subtle changes thus far. Still, I’ve learned that even the subtle changes can make a big difference!
My first attempt at a toddler-friendly kitchen was right after I read my first Montessori book and began overhauling our home. I was so eager to lend accessibility that I gave too much accessibility. I gave my son the entire bottom two shelves of our pantry where he could get his own snacks and plates and cups – much too big a task with too many tempting snacks for him! We took a step back.
Then we got a high-rise step stool, which gave more freedom and inclusion in all the right ways. He was up with me and we could work together. This is our biggest hit, used daily. We took a step forward.
Then, we tried a DIY water pouring station; We wanted to capitalize on his love for water pouring and swooned over some of the beautiful ideas on Pinterest. We introduced this at the same time baby sister was newly mobile and starting to stand. While it had novelty at first, it became more of an upkeep hassle and hazard as my youngest started pulling up on it, knocking down cups and leaving puddles of water. It was too much for our current chapter. We took a step back.
Then, in-between the craziness of a move and downsizing of furniture, we got rid of our high chair and booster seat in favor of a toddler table set. In our new home, we were able to place their table right next to our dining table, so family meals were still together as a family. It has been such a game changer, giving them greater independence with meals as they can get in and out of their seats without needing to be strapped in/out, placed up/down. We took a step forward.
And just as I thought we had been in a good groove after much and fourth, my youngest, who’s now 15 months, is showing me otherwise. She is starting to compete for the step stool with my oldest, wanting to help more, but they can’t both fit on the step stool to share the space with me. So, we are attempting another step forward.
I repurposed a milk crate to make a small surface for my daughter. It’s nothing fancy and there are minimal freedoms here. She has rags she can use to clean, a skill she’s already been doing; a cutting board and chopper where I can guide her beginner prep skills – also something we’ve already been doing; small plates and bowls where she and her brother can set their table – somewhat new for her, but she’s had experience holding delicate things since 8 months; And water pouring with scaled pitchers. My oldest doesn’t need guidance with pouring, but my youngest does. A spill with a 2 oz. creamer is more than manageable, though. The freedoms here are more proportionate and they are ones that I can commit to guiding, or that wouldn’t be full of hurdles if they attempted while I wasn’t around.
Contrary to giving freedom in other rooms of our home, the kitchen has been a place of what feels like much more trial and error, which can feel discouraging at times, but it is a good lesson on following and observing the child. To truly be a yes space, it can’t fall static, but it also can’t be overwhelming. A hurdle could come in the form of both not enough freedom or too much. Navigating the kitchen with my littles has taught me that taking steps back is more than OK, and it’s just as important sometimes as taking steps forward.
Sidenote: extra guidance may be required in the kitchen where food becomes snout-level to dogs! 🙂
What have you tried in your kitchen with littles? What worked and what didn’t? How did you adjust based on what you observed? How do you cater the kitchen to different ages, if applicable?